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What to include in a back-to-school wellness checklist

A back-to-school checkup can help identify physical and mental health problems before they affect academics. Stock photo

It can be an overwhelming time for parents as they prepare their children to go back to school. There are supplies to gather, new clothes to buy, haircuts to schedule — the list goes on.

But what about a child's health?

It is beneficial to identify health concerns and put together a plan before classes start, said Dr. Lawrence Richmond, who practices family medicine at Park Nicollet Clinic in Plymouth, Minn., part of the HealthPartners organization.

"That could be as simple as alerting the teacher, having carved out homework time or getting a tutor sooner rather than later," Richmond said.

Here are some items to include in a back-to-school wellness checklist:

Updating immunizations

Schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin require that students receive a number of immunizations or have a signed waiver. One of these is MMR, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

A measles outbreak in Minnesota this year has been an reminder of the importance of vaccines, Richmond said, adding people of all age groups benefit from them by preventing the spread of disease.

Of the 79 measles cases reported in the state as of mid-July, 71 of the patients were confirmed to be unvaccinated, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on vaccines and immunization schedules at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

Vision and hearing screenings

Being able to see and hear properly are crucial to being successful in the classroom.

Richmond admits he was reluctant when he had to get prescription eyeglasses, but it quickly became clear that they were necessary.

"I couldn't see the blackboard before then, and that's obviously not going to help academics at all," he said.

Hearing problems can sometimes be temporary, such as those caused by swimming that are reversible; but, if a child does have more serious hearing loss, Richmond said it is important to be proactive in addressing it.

Physical exams

As children's bodies develop, regular physical exams will assess a range of criteria and help identify concerns such as spine problems. Sports physicals also are important for children who plan to participate in sports.

Though Richmond said a physical is about more than just hammering a knee to check reflexes.

"There can be a lot that we assess with regards to school performance, anxiety and depression concerns and relationships at home," he said.

Behavioral risk assessment

School can be a stressful time for children, which can lead to substance abuse and self-harm.

"There's so many potential risks during this age group," Richmond said.

A behavioral risk assessment is an opportunity for children to speak confidentially with a doctor about problems they are going through.

Again, Richmond stressed the importance of being proactive to address stressors and unhealthy habits.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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